Media Life: Should Gilbert be remembered with Central Square statue?

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Talk in town has already turned to a statue for Gilbert Ortega, Auburn’s cycling free spirit who died last Friday at 82. The economic downturn may put that lofty goal on the backburner until more flush times return but there are other ways to perhaps keep alive the spirit of a man the community knew simply as “Gilbert.” Ortega was one of those one-in-a-million characters whose gift to Auburn in later life was hard to define. For those who knew him – or merely saw him on a regular basis flying down the street on his immaculately shiny bicycle – that gift was about allowing the spirit to soar. Ortega defied age. He was in his 80s and still riding his bicycle. He defied convention. Picture an octogenarian wearing a hat with a raccoon tail on the back and a jacket weighed down by dozens of metallic pins and costume jewelry. And the man on the bicycle, honking his horn and smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world defied all who saw him to break out of their own boxes to be just a little more spontaneous. For years, that was his gift to Auburn and its residents – from the kid in the car seat driving to pre-school with his mother to the senior being taken to a doctor’s appointment. The idea of a statue is getting plenty of attention with Journal online readers as Gilbert’s death sinks in. “A statue of Gilbert in the square would represent Auburn,” raiderdave7 wrote online. “I propose a statue of Gilbert on his bike,” loomisresident stated. “I would like the bulb horn to be a real one so people could honk it. It would be an interactive smile maker. Gilbert would love that..” “Perfect tribute” Auburnnative agreed, saying a Central Square statue of Gilbert would be a perfect tribute. “What an honor that would be to a kind soul who made so many people smile,” added RVFamily. Laughwithu wrote that Gilbert’s presence in the form of a statue on his bike would fit in nicely with the Central Square endurance theme. “I’m loving the statue idea with bike!” said keepingupdated. “Maybe the clock tower tones should be replaced by Gilbert’s bike’s horn noise.” “We need to teach our children that every person – no matter what they look like or how much money they have – has gifts to contribute to life,” said I-heart-auburn. “It is not how smart one is that counts but how much a person gives of his or herself to make a positive difference in the world.” So how about it Auburn? Is the city ready to get behind a statue to Gilbert? Should the money come from public coffers or should there be a fund-raising drive to ensure the money doesn’t dip into taxpayers’ pocketbooks? Should it be located on public land or private? And should it be an artistic rendering of Gilbert and his spirit – or a definitive, realistic statue in bronze? Day to remember In the meantime, a less costly option – and fittingly for Gilbert, more spontaneous – would be an unofficial “Gilbert Day.” A good date would be Oct. 15. He would have turned 83 that day. Remembering Gilbert could be as simple as wearing a raccoon tail on a hat at work, sporting some unique pins or badges on a jacket to school or attaching streamers to a vehicle. Or how about bringing along a bike horn like Gilbert’s and fill the air with honking at the appropriate time to bring a smile to people’s faces? Or even just riding your bike – with requisite pinwheels attached – to work or school on Gilbert’s birthday. Gilbert was an Auburn original. He lived all his life in the area, gave in his own way much more than he got, and will be missed by many. It’s a tribute that people don’t want to let go of the gift he gave while he was still alive – and keeps on giving after his passing. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at (530) 852-0232 or